News / Africa

Sudan Military May be Poised for Major Offensive

Satellite image of helicopters at the Sudanese airbase at Kidugli.
Satellite image of helicopters at the Sudanese airbase at Kidugli.
Joe DeCapua

Analysts say new satellite images of Sudan’s Southern Kordofan State indicate a major government military offensive is about to begin against the Nuba people.  The images were released Wednesday by the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP).

Government forces have been fighting the rebel SPLA-North Sector in Southern Kordofan, causing thousands of civilians to flee to South Sudan.

“What we’re seeing is the grounds for issuing a Human Security Alert, which we issued today,” said Nathaniel Raymond, director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which analyzed the images.“Satellite imagery collected by DigitalGlobe has captured evidence of road construction and the presence of heavy armor units in position to the Kauda Valley. The Kauda Valley is where at least 200,000 civilians of the Nuba people are currently taking refuge,” he said.

No escape?

Images also indicate the route that’s been used by thousands of civilians to cross into South Sudan appears to be under the control of the Sudanese Armed Forces. Raymond said the route “appears to be blocked, limiting the movement of civilians who may still be trying to flee the Kauda Valley and the Nuba mountains.”

There are also images of an airbase where improvements are being made.

“We see the construction of an airstrip at Talodi, which is approximately 30 miles or 50 kilometers from Kauda Valley. Why this is important is that the runway there is being lengthened to approximately 1800 meters. It takes 1500 to 1550 meters to land an Antonov. An Antonov is the plane which has been used to drop bombs and explosive ordinance of many types. With this new strip, they will be able to conduct high tempo air operations into the Kauda Valley, combined with the infrastructure improvements needed to deploy heavy armor in coordination with that air support,” said Raymond.

Witnesses say it was an Antonov plane that dropped bombs Monday on a refugee center just across the border from Southern Kordofan in South Sudan. Images also show helicopter gunships at the Kadugli airbase

The Satellite Sentinel Project issued a Human Security Alert last year for the disputed oil rich region of Abyei two months before it was attacked by Sudanese forces. “We saw almost an identical force pattern and infrastructure pattern prior to the invasion of Abyei region,” said Raymond.

Final assault

Analysts believe the military offensive could begin soon. “At this point, there’s approximately 8 to 9 weeks before the start of the rainy season. And it makes sense based on the very clear statements of indicted war criminal Governor Ahmed Haroun and President Bashir that they intend to take the Kauda Valley, if possible, likely before the rainy season begins again,” he said.

The Satellite Sentinel Project said the images indicate “preparation for a final assault against the Nuba people.” It said when the fighting began last June in Southern Kordofan there were more than one million Nuba people in the state. It estimates there are now between 200,000 and 400,000.

“During that time you have had more than half of the Nuba population killed, displaced internally or displaced into South Sudan,” he said, adding, “It is crucial to note that this is occurring with the backdrop of what we call a green famine. The Famine Early Warning System, the United Nations and the U.S. government have made it very clear that the food security situation in the Nuba Mountains and the Kauda Valley is precarious.”

The SSP said reports from the ground say the price of sorghum has skyrocketed.

Raymond said, “People are eating reserve foods and in some cases eating bark and leaves. If there is not immediate humanitarian assistance into this restricted area, it is a very real possibility that a famine could occur by some estimates as early as March. And we’re talking 200,000 civilians at least cut off from escape, cut off from humanitarian aid and cut off from protection.”

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